December 2, 2020

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs

What is Canine Lyme Disease?

This article is about symptoms of lyme disease in dogs and its treatment. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria. It is called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is passed to a dog through certain types of ticks. Ticks are considered to be a parasite because they feed on their host’s blood. These particular ticks are called deer ticks, also known as the black-legged tick.

These ticks may have a specific name because they prefer to feed on deer, but they will feed on many different types of animals. These deer ticks are considered to be the type of tick with the highest likelihood of carrying Lyme disease.

The most common way deer ticks catch the Borrelia bacteria is from the white-footed mouse, which is very commonly found in North America.

What does a Lyme tick bite look like?

Deer ticks are much smaller than dog ticks, about the size of a sesame seed. They spread the Lyme disease-causing bacteria by attaching itself to your dog for more than two days. These ticks can live up to 2 years, feeding and breeding on different hosts. Dogs will develop Lyme disease when they are bitten by an infected adult tick.

The longer the tick is attached to your dog’s skin, the higher the chance of him being infected with Lyme disease. Most cases of Lyme disease spread to your dog within two days.

lyme disease tick

How does a dog Get Lyme disease?

Because these deer ticks are so small, they often go unnoticed. You may be wondering where your dog could have gotten these ticks that cause Lyme disease from. These ticks are usually found in grassy areas, including long grass in the yard, in bushes, areas with lots of grass debris, or wood debris, and they thrive in moist areas. They can be found at any time of year, but mostly in the spring and summer months.

If your dog has recently been walking through wooded areas or your lawn has gotten a little out of control, your dog could contract these ticks from the long grass. Once a tick has attached itself to your dog, there is a possibility it could transfer the Lyme disease-causing bacteria.

Although not all ticks carry these bacteria, it is important to treat ticks on dogs as soon as possible to avoid illness and serious health problems.

Some breeds that contract Lyme disease develop severe reactions to the disease and it is often fatal. These breeds include Shetland Sheepdogs, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers.

It is also known that puppies are more prone to Lyme disease because they have weaker immune systems and cannot fight off infection as well as a full-grown dog. To prevent Lyme disease in puppies, be sure to have them vaccinated at 12 weeks of age.

lyme disease dog

What are symptoms of lyme disease in dogs?

Lyme disease symptoms in dogs maybe a little more difficult to find, especially in thicker fur dogs. If you discover a tick in your dog, remove it promptly and keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and look out for any possible symptoms. If you notice even slight symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs, take your dog to the vet immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease.

It is important to know what to look for when dealing with the possibility of Lyme disease. Lyme disease can easily become very serious for your dog and should be taken care of right away to avoid the possibility of serious illness or infection. It is also important to know how to properly remove ticks from your dog in case they carry the Lyme disease-causing bacteria.

  • Foul breath – If you suspect your dog may have Lyme disease, check his breath. It is known that many dogs that have Lyme disease have foul breath that is similar to the scent of ammonia.
  • Fever – Dogs having Lyme disease are often reported to have flu-like symptoms. This means you should check for a fever. This means he may be shivering, be warm to the touch on his head and belly, and maybe panting. But when dealing with a possible case of Lyme disease in dogs, it is important to get to the veterinarian right away.
  • Lack of energy – Some symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs may be a lack of appetite, no desire to play or exercise, sleeping often, and even depression. This may be a sign of Lyme disease if he was recently bit by a tick.
  • Swollen lymph nodes – Lymph nodes work in the body by trapping foreign materials in our bodies, and our dog’s bodies as well. Lymph nodes play an important role in fighting infection in your dog’s bodies, and if they are swollen, it could be a symptom of Lyme disease
  • Joint stiffness and limping – Lyme disease usually affect the joints and muscles. If your dog has Lyme disease, he may appear to be very stiff when walking, climbing upstairs, or jumping up on couches. As joint pain and swelling increase, he will likely begin to limp as well. Limb lameness usually changes from leg to leg. Some more serious Lyme disease symptoms in dogs include the following:
  • Kidney disease – Kidney disease is very common when Lyme disease goes untreated for too long. Excess vomiting, weight loss, increased urination, and increased water consumption is all signs that your dog could have developed kidney problems from Lyme disease. Kidney disease may lead to death if it continues to go untreated.
  • Heart conditions – Heart palpitations and heart attacks may occur in severe cases of Lyme disease. They do not show any symptoms beforehand and can be very sudden and cause immediate death without warning.
  • Damaged nervous system – Seizures, paralysis in the limbs and face as well as behavioral abnormalities such as aggression have been known to occur when a dog is infected with Lyme disease. Sometimes seizures can be recurring, and paralysis can be permanent.
lyme disease dog

How is Lyme disease diagnosed in dogs?

The diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on a few different things. These may include a history of tick exposure, the symptoms that are currently present, and the overall health of your dog. Your veterinarian will then do a variety of tests. These may include blood and urine samples, synovial (joint fluid) samples and x-rays may be done to diagnose Lyme disease in dogs and secondary infections such as kidney disease.

What is treatment for Lyme disease in dogs?

If you suspect your dog may have contracted Lyme disease, it is important to remove the tick as soon as possible. Once this is done, you need to monitor your dog’s behavior and keep an eye out for any possible symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs.

Treatment is not for Lyme disease itself, but for the Borrelia bacteria that could attack your dog’s system. Depending on how severe the infection is will depend on the amount of treatment and the type of medication that may be prescribed.

  • Antibiotics – If your dog is infected with Lyme disease, your veterinarian will likely prescribe antibiotics to help ease symptoms. They will likely need to be taken for a few weeks to fully rid your dog of his symptoms. It is important to note that Lyme disease bacteria borrelia will never be completely cleared from your dog’s system with antibiotics.
  • Relief from fever and limb lameness should begin to show between 2 and 6 days of antibiotic treatment.
  • Medicated shampoos and ointments – If your dog has caught a lot of ticks, there may be quite a few sore spots. In this case, your vet may prescribe some medicated shampoos, ointments, or other medical creams to ease inflammation and prevent infection of these sores. Your dog may be provided with a cone to avoid itching and chewing at these areas as well.
  • Some dogs may be allergic to the tick saliva as well. Medicated creams or antihistamines may be given in this event.
  • Further medication – If your dog’s case of Lyme disease is more serious, further medications to treat kidney problems and prevent heart and nervous system issues may be administered as well. Kidney disease is known to reoccur after the initial infection of Lyme disease, so regular exams will need to be administered to ensure your dog does not contract a serious case of kidney disease.

How can you prevent Lyme disease in dogs?

Vaccinations – Vaccinations can be given to dogs and puppies to help prevent Lyme disease. It is not required, because it is not a common disease. Vaccinations for Lyme disease are given to puppies at about 12 weeks of age, and then they will be given a booster shot again about 4 weeks later. An annual vaccination before tick season begins is also recommended if you are concerned about Lyme disease.

It is important to note that vaccinations are not 100% effective, and they do wear off after a certain amount of time. These vaccinations only work when your dog has not been exposed to the Borrelia bacteria.

It is important to note that once your dog has contracted Lyme disease, the Borrelia bacteria will be in his system forever. Although it remains quiet and usually does not resurface, re-infections could occur. The best way to treat a case of Lyme disease in dogs is to prevent it altogether. The following tips will help to prevent the spread of ticks and Lyme disease in dogs.

Have your dog vaccinated if your area is prone to ticks. This should be done when he is a puppy. Talk to your vet for more information when you are considering vaccinations.

If you walk in the woods, stick to trails or cleared areas. Avoid letting your dog play in the dense, grassy areas.

 Keep your lawn tidy. Mow your lawn regularly, pluck weeds, and keep grass and woodpiles out of your yard.  Clear your yard of any dead vegetation or shrubbery.

You can use sprays to clear your trees, bushes, and yard from ticks. These can be done professionally or purchased at your local hardware store. Be sure to keep your dog out of this area while you are spraying.

Keep your garbage tightly closed and clear any dead animals that may be around. These two factors may encourage wild animals to enter your yard and spread ticks to your dog.

 If you have recently taken your dog outdoors in grassy or wooded areas, be sure to do a check of his fur when you get home. This is especially important in the Spring and Summer months.

Remember that ticks, especially deer ticks, are very small and can easily be missed. They may resemble freckles or dirt, so check them out even if you are unsure.

How do I get rid of imbedded tick from a dog?

Removing the tick within 24 hours of discovering it may greatly reduce the chance of your dog contracting Lyme disease.

If your dog has recently been exposed to areas that could hold deer ticks. Or you live in an area that is prone to ticks, it is important to regularly check your dog for ticks. It is also recommended to check often in the spring and summer months when ticks are most frequent.

First, check your dog’s fur with latex gloves. Feel for any lumps (deer ticks can range from the size of a sesame seed to the size of a bean) especially around the face, legs, armpits, and belly. You may need a magnifying glass to see the tick.

 Use a fine-toothed comb or flea comb to brush your dog’s hair back and examine the fur. Look for brown ticks in the skin.

If you discover a tick, you will need to use very small tweezers, or a tick removal tool to extract it. Firmly grasp the tick at the base of your dog’s skin. Be sure to pull the tick straight out, never twist or squeeze the tick to kill it. Make sure you pull the entire tick out.

Once the entire tick has been removed, place the tick in a jar of rubbing alcohol to kill it. You may want to keep the tick handy for a few days in case your dog shows signs of Lyme disease.

Clean the area with soap and water or with rubbing alcohol to prevent infection. You can apply an antibiotic ointment to the area to ease any irritation.

It is important to note that you should never use Vaseline or a match to try to get rid of ticks. This will only cause the tick to go further into the skin, or release more disease-causing saliva. You should also never use your bare fingers to remove the tick. As this could put you at risk for contracting the disease as well.

Some other important articles:   

IMHA in Dogs

Diabetes in Dogs

Cushing’s disease in Dogs

Chocolate Toxicity Calculator Dog

This information is NOT intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation for any of your pet’s diseases. Always consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

References:

  • Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline by Larry P. Tilley, Francis W. K. Smith
  • Saunders Manual of Small Animal Practice by Robert G. Sherding and Stephen J. Birchard
  • Emergency Procedures for the Small Animal Veterinarian by Signe J. Plunkett
  • Merck Veterinary Manual by  Susan Aiello
  • 100 Top Consultations in Small Animal General Practice by Peter Hill, Sheena Warman, Geoff Shawcross
  • Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook by Donald C. Plumb
  • Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Manual, 3rd Edition by Karol A. Mathews
  • Veterinary Guide for Animal Owners, 2nd Edition by C.E. Spaulding, D.M.V. Jackie Clay 
  • Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care for Veterinary Technicians Third edition by Andrea M. Battaglia, LVT, Andrea M. Steele, MSc, RVT, VTS (ECC)

Dr Gurpal Chahal, DVM

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

View all posts by Dr Gurpal Chahal, DVM →

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